Friday 24 March 2017

Too little too late as City bowout

Silva service can’t halt early exit from Europe’s top table
Manchester City 2 Bayern Munich 0

Henry Winter

Manchester City and Manchester United, the top two teams in the Premier League, symbols of English confidence, are now in the Europa League, now playing on Thursday nights.

City at least have the partial excuse of being drawn in a brutal group, but while Channel Five executives will be looking forward to swelled Christmas bonuses and rising viewing figures, last night's developments will have made dispiriting viewing for Premier League powerbrokers.

London still carries the English flag, Arsenal and Chelsea remaining in the Champions League, but the loss of the Manchester heavyweights is pretty humiliating.

How La Liga will be laughing at the culling of the English. How the German visitors to the wealthiest club in the world enjoyed this.

Bayern's board will have quietly relished this, having made critical comments about City's lavish spending. The Germans drank deeply from glasses of Schadenfreude last night.

Bayern fans loved it, taunting their City counterparts with all manner of chants, including "Napoli".

In mitigation, City had been drawn in a tough group, with Napoli always a threat, and Bayern Munich part of the establishment, but this will hurt.

City have enjoyed the prestige associated with Europe's elite. They have enjoyed the money, an important revenue stream in the era of Financial Fair Play. Even with their huge wealth, playing in the Champions League also made it easier to lure players to the Etihad.

The stars will still come, of course, but this was a big setback for Roberto Mancini. City lead the Premier League, always their stated priority, but must beware any draining of confidence after this frustration.

City visit Chelsea on Monday and must react strongly as Andre Villas-Boas will have his team ready for an ambush. The Bridge will reverberate to toxic chants.

At least City can console themselves that their 'project' has always demanded evolution not revolution. Mancini may reflect, though, on his too cavalier tactics in Bavaria. City were too attack-minded and were picked off by Bayern.

The sight of Bayern fielding their reserves last night had inevitably lifted City hopes, and Mancini's men were two goals to the good within the hour. Until David Silva scored the first, some nerves pervaded the home fans, barring the opportunity to boo Jerome Boateng. Yet they had always known their fate lay with events at El Madrigal, Villarreal.

Before briefly dipping, City had actually started well, putting together a magnificent move down the right, the ball flying between Stefan Savic, Yaya Toure, Samir Nasri and then back to Toure, who swept a superb return pass to Nasri.

The Frenchman scampered down the wing, looking for Sergio Aguero's arrival into the box. The Argentinian lost his man, arriving perfectly for Nasri's delivery, but he headed over.

The game meandered for a while, notable partly for some skirmishes between Savic and Ivica Olic, Montenegro and Croatia. Olic was in feisty mood, briefly troubling City, soon running on to Nils Petersen's flick but firing wide.

When Nasri swung in a free-kick, City thought they had scored through Joleon Lescott. The centre-half rose above Hans-Jorg Butt but was adjudged to have fouled the 'keeper. It was a classic European decision. The goal would have been given in the Premier League.

Until a rousing end to the half, City could not get going and they were almost embarrassed when David Alaba went close. But then came City's David.

The anxiety levels dropped when Silva finally reminded everyone of his class. He had been quiet until then. Savic began the move from a throw-in, Gareth Barry accelerated the attack and Edin Dzeko flicked the ball round the corner into the path of Silva.

Refined touch and quick thinking defined the Spaniard's reaction. Shooting early, Silva's left-footed strike totally caught out Butt.

focused

City were now in the mood, finishing the half strongly as their fans bounced in a jubilant 'Poznan' dance. As it stood, with Napoli drawing at Villarreal, City were through, but they knew they could only concentrate on the task in hand. So they focused on enhancing their lead.

Mancini's three spinning tops -- Silva, Aguero and Nasri -- were full of invention as the half closed. Silva wove his way through on a quicksilver run. Then Barry, increasingly influential, found Aguero on the left. He darted inside and shot just wide.

The sense of optimism intensified as the second half opened. Within seven minutes, City fans were doing the Poznan again. Again, City dissected Bayern with all the skill of a surgeon. The ball glided between Toure, Aguero and Dzeko, who slid it through the middle of Bayern's defence for Toure to apply the coup de grace with a sliding finish.

Alaba then reminded City of his side's presence, bringing a low save from Joe Hart. Napoli then reminded City of their predatory nature, striking twice at Villarreal. A hush fell over the Etihad, broken only by German chants of "Napoli" and "you only sing when you're winning". City were winning but going out.

Mancini began changing the team. Nigel de Jong came on to anchor midfield as Yaya Toure was withdrawn to regain breath for Monday's match with Chelsea.

Mario Balotelli soon arrived, having needed a bit of time to remove numerous layers, and that pesky bib, but the real disrobing was of Mancunian ambition. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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